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This month’s “Industry Ally” is no less than the brilliant Nigel Glen on the topic of Net Zero. Property Managers, how much thought have you given to energy consumption? What difference can you make? How can you reduce your bills?


The Government has committed to the UK being Net Zero by 2050. It’s a huge subject, covering generation, distribution, carbon capture/offsetting, building fabric and insulation etc. And you will be relieved to read that I’m not going into any of those here…


BUT – given that buildings are responsible for 17% of the UKs total CO2 emissions, it is obvious that we, as managing agents, have a significant part to play in helping the Government (and, more importantly, the planet) to cut our CO2 emissions. So how do buildings create CO2? The main ways are heating and hot water, particularly gas boilers, and power consumption (all those electric lights, gates, lifts etc). As a property manager, this is where you can help, doing a little good for future generations.


Let’s look at the big one first – communal Heat Networks. This is an area where you can make a significant difference, whilst hopefully saving your clients money to boot. Look at your gas bills (and make sure they are a) in contract and b) at the 5% domestic VAT level) on a block-by-block basis, and for each block work out the average consumption per flat (ideally use the amount of gas used as opposed to the £’s, as the latter can vary depending upon supplier, contract etc). This will help you identify which blocks are less efficient than others and hence the best ones to start with.


What are you looking for? Perhaps surprisingly the biggest savings are probably to be found in the Heat Networks production and distribution system rather than within peoples flats themselves. This is good news as it means any changes likely fall under the service charge and hence offer an opportunity for the managing agent to help. Are the boilers serviced regularly? Are the flow temperature deltas optimal (i.e. the difference in temperature between the water leaving the boiler and coming back in)? If not get them adjusted and look at systems to control in real time, remotely, so that property management moves away from being passive and becomes active. Is the pipework correctly insulated? Are the boilers old and inefficient? All of these factors will have a significant effect upon the efficiency – and hence gas consumed/CO2 produced. Get creative too – we once looked at a system whereby disconnecting the exposed penthouse from the communal system and giving them their own boiler meant that the rest of the block could turn the heating on a month later and off a month earlier, a huge saving and a payback of less than two years.


It would be nice to also put in controls within people’s flats so that radiators are controlled, both in terms of temperature and timings, but that is outside your remit as a managing agent as its almost certain the radiators etc will be within the demise of the flat. But don’t give up, rather try to help educate people about making their heating more efficient, balancing their radiators etc. Perhaps the best way to influence people is to install metering so that people pay for what they actually use as opposed to what the lease determines.


Moving away from fossil fuels, the Government is keen that heat pumps are rolled out, with the Net Zero logic behind that meaning that electricity from the national grid will eventually, one way or another, be Net Zero. All very well for new builds, but what about the existing stock? At the moment converting from gas to heat pumps is fraught with issues – it is far from simply unplugging one and replacing with the other. Putting cost aside (heat pumps are way more expensive than gas boilers), the physics are different in that the current crop of heat pumps provide lower temperatures, so the current radiators in flats etc may simply not get hot enough. Technology is improving all the time and, in The Netherlands, hotter heat pumps are being installed which may overcome that problem – which would be a potential game-changer. But there are other practical issues – for example where do you put the heat pumps? They are heavy, can be noisy and are very valuable – so where to actually put them could be a challenge in itself.


What else can you look at? What about the lighting in the communal areas? Hopefully by now you have already converted all of the lighting to energy efficient LEDs – but have you also looked at how and when they come on? Are they on all the time? Controlled via timers? Or use motion detectors? There is no single solution that will work for all situations, so get in a specialist to make suggestions, put together a business case and get the landlord/flat owners to agree.


Electric vehicle charging is another area where you can help wean people from fossil fuels. Installing charging points will make people more likely to swap over. It’s not straightforward as, currently, the leases will probably mean that you cannot use service charges to install EV points, as they might be challenged as an improvement. That’s a topic under discussion with Government, which is a whole different story. But things to consider – do you electrify every parking space? Or just a few communal ones? If the latter, which ones can you legally use? How do you police them (think of non-residents, or people overstaying/parking in the bay), how do you recover the cost (and don’t forget the corporate structure – some landlords may be dormant companies and hence unable to receive/expend money)?


Net Zero is a huge and daunting topic. The above are just a few small things that you can do to help save the planet. But great things are only ever achieved by a lot of people doing just a few small things.